France sells chemicals stake

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The Independent Online
PARIS (Reuter) - The French government yesterday unveiled plans to sell at least 6 million shares - amounting to a 10.5 per cent stake - in Rhone-Poulenc, the giant chemicals and pharmaceuticals firm. However the state will keep a majority stake in the company.

At present, the state owns 56.9 per cent of Rhone-Poulenc directly while French state-owned companies own another 20.8 per cent.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Industry Minister, said the sale would bring in about Fr4bn ( pounds 488m) and could well complete the government's asset sale programme for 1992.

France, with unemployment of just below three million, has been selling stakes in state-owned companies in part to raise cash for job programmes.

It had raised about Fr10bn in this way by the end of September, and has a target of Fr16bn for this year.

Asked if more asset sales were planned, Mr Strauss-Kahn said: 'That will depend on how much this brings in. We are about on target . . . I don't think (there will be other sales) but I cannot say there will be none.'

The finance ministry said the Rhone-Poulenc sale would take place within the next few months, depending on market conditions. No price was announced yesterday.

Rhone-Poulenc, one of the world's biggest chemicals firms, has a pharmaceuticals business that also puts it among the world's top 10 drug companies. It had net income of Fr2bn in 1991 on sales of Fr83.8bn.

The government will also proceed with a swap of non-voting certificates for shares, currently held by non-state investors.

It was not immediately clear how the share offer and swaps would change the ownership profile of Rhone-Poulenc, but the government said that its aim was to increase privatisation of the firm.

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